Last month, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres met with Jesus Mendoza, regional administrator for the Food and Nutrition Service of the Department of Agriculture, to discuss options on how to best use new money to provide more food assistance to low-income families in the Northern Marianas.
On Thursday, Torres notified USDA Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Audrey Rowe regarding the feasibility of the SNAP Pilot Program in the Northern Mariana Islands indicating that CNMI NAP is endeavoring to move towards a SNAP-Comparable Program.
“After careful review of Rowe’s letter and of the recently completed SNAP Feasibility Study, it is the intention of the CNMI to move in the direction of a SNAP-comparable program, with the aim of the eventual transition to the SNAP,” Torres said.
Torres added that it is in the best interest of the Commonwealth that there are considerable issues involved with pursuing the SNAP Pilot Program that will work against a successful outcome.
“The limited scope of time for the completion of the Pilot and the numerous and significant changes to eligibility, benefits, and administration for such a brief period of time being the most significant,” Torres says, as the CNMI NAP has already embarked on the path to seeing its eligibility system developed and will see the transition to an EBT system in the near future.
For Torres, the move closer to the national SNAP by providing increased benefits, adjusted income guidelines, and better, more accountable service delivery will allow families in need of assistance to be better served while providing them a greater opportunity to build self-sufficiency.
“We all know there are ways in which we can improve the way we provide these essential services to the many families in the CNMI,” Torres adds, “by increasing income guidelines, a head of household can obtain a full-time, minimum wage job, without potentially losing benefits. This, along with the eventual goal of utilizing the EBT card system for benefits, will have positive effects to our overall workforce population and economy.”
Last month, Regional Administrator Mendoza also met with U/S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) to discuss options that are U.S.-equivalent food assistance for the Commonwealth.
“I would like to thank Congressman Sablan for his assistance in this process to allow for a more efficient use of NAP funding and improving these services to those who need it most,” Torres said.
Department of Community and Cultural Affair Secretary Robert Hunter says that work is well underway to fulfilling the governor’s vision for the NAP program.
“It is our goal to review and amend the NAP processes, guidelines, and utilize the available resources to increase eligibility and benefits, to bring them in parallel where possible with those of the SNAP to increase benefits and services for our population,” Hunter states, adding that the transition toward this new vision for NAP will take time but that the benefits of these enhanced services are evident.
“Following the governor’s letter, we will put our effort into working alongside FNS and Congressman Sablan’s Office to see this come to fruition for our clients and the community,” he said.